"When I was a kid there was constant knee capping, bombing, shootings, all from opposite side, so Catholics fighting Protestants, paramilitaries fighting against the cops, and I used to fear every time when I heard them shots".
R: What was it like growing up in Belfast?
When I was a kid there was constant knee capping, bombing, shootings, all from opposite side, so Catholics fighting Protestants, paramilitaries fighting against the cops, and I used to fear every time when I heard them shots. I used to be scared, didn’t know who it was or where it was, thinking was it someone related to me. In them days you couldn’t move across til the other side as such, like you couldn’t have went into a Protestant estate for the fear of being shot or blew up.
I remember one day in school, my older brother who was 18 worked in the linen factory. While I was in school I heard someone saying 2 young Catholic men were shot where the factory was, and I panicked, my heart stopped because I thought it was my brother, even though it was in a Catholic area. Sometimes that’s what they did; they went into the others and just shot them. I had to ask the school to phone home and make sure it wasn’t him. Lucky enough it wasn’t but it was in the same place where he worked. Nowadays I wouldn’t even think twice if it was a relation of mine like. I wouldn’t be afraid, I would still have doubts of letting the kids go into a different estate or area but that is only because they have Irish names, and some people are still like that. You do have people who don’t want peace although the majority do want peace, are not bitter.
We couldn’t go into the other one’s estates, you couldn’t do that then, like you can do now, we couldn’t have done that but now the peace is here they can go in and around their own area and other areas without worrying that they were going to get hurt, would still be a bit wary but nothing like it was back then 20 years ago.
As a kid I used to lie in bed and think was there a bomb going to go off, was this and that going to happen? I know with my kids now when they are lying in bed at nights, they don’t have all that going on in their heads. It still goes on in our estate like the beatings, shootings and stuff, they still do it, there was someone shot around the corner from us last night - 5 times they shot him. If you know there has been a shooting in the area and it’s like that it’s a paramilitary one, they have done something wrong against their own people, maybe drugs or whatever else.
Years ago, if I had of heard of the IRA shooting someone like for stealing a car, or touching someone else’s kid, I would have said like wise up, leave the people alone, who do they think they are, they don’t have permission, let the police deal with them. Now I would say they need it cause even if they’d get caught by police now ,sure they’re let out the next day, where years ago if that happened, like breaking into houses or beating elderly people, they were dealt with in their own communities and it was over, you would not do it again. Nowadays they get out from police next day and go do it again because they haven’t been dealt with like years ago. It’s either the police don’t want to deal with it or they can’t. I think sometimes the police are even scared of them.
Some people say the ones who are let out the next day or a few hours later are touting on their own community. Years ago, if you were touting you would have been shot. They need to be dealt with in the community like years ago cause now they are destroying this place, it’s going to the dogs. It’s crazy nowadays, I mean they are getting away with everything now cause the paramilitaries have took a back seat, they don’t deal with the joy riding, house breaking, and all that, that’s why they can go out and do it again. Years ago, that’s why there wasn’t as much crime in the area. It’s the only way you are going to get things like that to stop again.
If my kids done any of that I would shoot them myself, I seriously would, if I found out that they stole a car or broke into someone’s house I would break their hands with a baseball bat and they wouldn’t do it again. That’s what you get, shouldn’t be breaking into houses, stealing cars or dealing drugs. If they done that and someone else shot them I would say fair play to them.
Years ago, we could have gone out to the shops and left our doors open, nowadays you can’t even lock your door and go to bed, they are trying to get into your house. That’s all you hear when you look at that Belfast Live or all over Facebook in the mornings, that this house was done and everything else, cars, bikes. Even a drugs page about these people selling prescription drugs to young ones, naming and shaming them. How many kids have died lately because of the drugs, either taking them or their heads went after as a cause of taking the tablets and they have committed suicide. Years ago, if you were caught selling prescription drugs you would have been killed like.
So, to me personally, yes, it was great - less shootings and bombings now. When I was young it was every other day someone was targeted. The ceasefire was good in that way, but then, society has went to the dogs. Some of the paramilitaries are still policing the communities now but obviously not enough, not a great deal only the odd time you hear of shootings, kneecaps. Nowadays you have to constantly do it before they would shoot you, where years ago if you did anything once you were punished for it.
Years ago, during the troubles my father-in-law was shot by the UVF for a mistaken identity although they did know it was a Catholic they were shooting. He was shot and paralysed. I witnessed a shooting being carried out years ago in Springhill in the old 3 storey houses that were there years ago. We were playing and heard the bangs, seen the ambulance driving up and followed it up to the old centre and there was someone being carried out on a stretcher. He had just been shot in both legs, and that really scared me. You could see him and hear his pain even though I didn’t actually see him being shot. Years ago, it was your own shooting your own, your own shooting the other side, them shooting back, them and our own shooting the police. Now when they are bombing the police it’s the breakaway organisations that’s doing it not the IRA cause they done the deal resulting in the ceasefire.
R: How do you think the past affected you?
I have OCD. Years ago, the psychiatrist told me that it could be down to something happening to me growing up, you may never recall it or maybe it was just the fact of always being afraid growing up during the troubles. And I can’t pin point what it is either. But it could be that. I remember lying in bed one time at my friend’s house, and I says to her I have a funny feeling a bomb is going to go off now and just as I said the word ‘now’, a bomb went off a couple of streets away not that far away from our actual house and I’m telling you I jumped and shook, so thinking about everything, it could be all those wee things why I have OCD. There was another time, I think I was 14, I was babysitting for a girl next door to me and it was the time of Michael Stone when he threw hand grenades at the funeral. A girl who I was babysitting for was wearing a long blue coat and she still hadn’t come home and it was on the news. I had seen a girl wearing a long blue coat and I had seen someone being interviewed with blood and all and I thought it was her. But it wasn’t, but even watching it, knowing that the girl who I was babysitting for was at that. So maybe the psychiatrist was right and maybe all them wee parts is a part of my OCD. Because he said that worrying wouldn’t help, because I’m a constant worrier now and I don’t know if that stems from the troubles or if you can be born a constant worrier. My mummy used to be a constant worrier as well. She got calmer as she got older, but me now, my anxiety is sky high, I can barely even sleep. I’m on medication for it, mainly at nighttime. I need my tablets before my anxiety starts or if it starts after I have taken my tablet I can’t do anything about it.
And I remember years ago the brits coming in and raiding our house when I was about 9. They pulled everything out. I remember they had guns - it was scary. I needed a drink and was dying for a glass of water and one of the brits had to lift me over the washing machine as it was in the way. I was shaking just because he had a gun and he was in my house raiding. Jesus I was shaking just because he had a gun. I was like, oh my god, and I was only 9 then. I was thinking is he going to shoot me or something.
R: What would you say are the main issues for growing up in Belfast now?
Unemployment and drugs. I think a lot of the anti-social element stems from drugs, people stealing to get money for drugs and doing robberies because they need more money to get drugs. I don’t know why, but years ago there wasn’t anybody taking prescription drugs, yea maybe older people but it wouldn’t have been a big thing the way it is now. I don’t know why it is the way it is now, between that and suicide and even years ago when we had all them bombs and shootings there was never suicides like, if anything you would think people would want to get away from the bombs and the shootings. One person killed themselves 19 years ago but growing up I never heard of anyone taking their own life and that was probably because there wasn’t a big drug epidemic. They didn’t need to break into people’s houses, they didn’t need to do robberies, their heads weren’t away with it because they weren’t on tablets. It probably stems from the unemployment, the boredom.
My older brother is addicted to prescription drugs. I don’t know why he is addicted. My friend died three years ago too, she was addicted to them as well. People being depressed as well, I know my brother is depressed; he has been in rehab three or four times now. But even before the cease-fire there wasn’t as many people depressed and we were living in the troubles - bombs and shootings every day. And people weren’t on anti-depressants like they are now. You would think that if you were growing up in a war zone you would be on anti-depressants more with all that going on around you.
R: What would be your hopes for the future?
I would like to lose weight, move out to the country and I would like not to have as much anxiety. The only time my brain switches off is when I’m in the middle of doing something, even then my thoughts creep in again.
My hopes for my own area would be that the drugs were taken off the street. Do you know what I always wanted, people are always talking about there isn’t places out there for people to go and talk to someone. Maybe someone wants to go and kill themselves because something has just happened there and then, and maybe you are indecisive about killing yourself then it’s good to talk.
And I would love to see something in Belfast - I don’t know if there is an all-night centre which is open 24 hours. So, at 3o’clock in the morning if you’re feeling down and you think you are going to go and kill yourself, that you can just go and walk off the street and sit there and talk to somebody and have a cup of tea. Something like that in each area of Belfast, because maybe then that would stop some suicides. Because even sometimes you just want to get outta the house, but you have nowhere to go, you don’t want to burden your friends or your family. Sometimes my heads going and I’m like,‘Jesus I can’t cope, this has happened and that has happened, and I need to get out of the house’. But sure, you don’t want to go to your friend’s house - she has six kids of her own running about and you’re not going to go and talk to your mummy because she is sick herself, what am I going to do. Like Quakers is a good place but if you need somewhere in the middle of the night and you need to go somewhere. Some people just go ‘actually I’m just going to go for a walk and actually just hang myself’. Where if they had somewhere to go to, like a drop-in, they could go in and have a cuppa tea. I think it would be a great help for Belfast.